Great Rivers of the World – Earth Day/PPBF

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Title: Great Rivers of the World

Author: Volker Mehnert

 Illustrator: Martin Haake

Publisher: Prestel, 2020

Translated from German by: Paul Kelly

Ages: 6-11 (and middle school)

42 pages, tall format

Genre: nonfiction

Themes: rivers, culture ecology, ecosystem, history, legends, geography


The great rivers of the world shape not only the countryside and nature of riverbanks, they also affect people’s lives. Since the earliest times, they have determined political and cultural borders, facilitated trade routes and even played an important role in religious life. Let’s go on the ultimate river cruise. We’ll explore 18 legendary rivers across all five continents. The journey begins with the Rhine in the middle of Europe, leads us on to the Danube, Thames, Volga, Lena, Ganges, Yangtze, Mekong, Congo, Nile, St. Lawrence, Mississippi, Colorado, Rio Grande, Orinocco, Amazon and Paraná, and goes right through to the Murray in Australia. We’ll marvel at the diverse life and famous sights to be discovered in and around these river wonders.


Spend hours navigating the world’s great rivers in this vibrant, fact-filled book for kids that blends geography, history, and culture.

Where in the Rhein does the Nibelung Treasure lie? What river helps mark the prime meridian? Why do people make pilgrimages to the Indian city of Benares? Why is the Mekong called the “Nine Dragon” river in Vietnam? How does the Mississippi divide and unite the United States? These and hundreds of other facts are explored in this wonderfully illustrated atlas of the world’s great rivers. Each spread in this book offers a colorful map packed with drawings, figures, and facts. Cities that border the rivers are highlighted, as are distinct flora and fauna, significant natural and human-made features, and fascinating historical details. A “biography” of each river describes where it flows, and its importance to the communities it passes through. Special attention is given to the ecological health of the rivers–those that are thriving and those in danger of losing their valuable habitats. Along the way, young readers will come to understand the enormous impact that rivers have on our lives, while learning valuable information in a way that will spark their curiosity and imagination. (publisher)

Why I like this book:

Over forty pages, readers are taken to the greatest rivers on all five continents. Quirky questions are addressed like “why is the Colorado red?” or “why are there only 2 bridges over the 2010 km long Orinocco?

On each double-paged spread, a text box offers an overview of the important details of the rivers, such as origins, names, depth, length, tributaries, historical and political significance. And accompanying the text are wonderful detailed maps created in a collage style, with lots of added details, like festivals, flora and fauna, important people etc. Having visited 8 of the rivers, I loved exploring things I knew like the Famous Ganges Festival of the Kumbh Mela, which I attended in 1998, or a paddle steamer on the Mississippi. I of course, also poured over all the facts that were new to me, like Caviar being a main fishing product from the Volga or how dangerous crossing the Rio Grande is for many Mexicans and South and Central Americans seeking a better life.

A highlight is the information on the Nile, where the author looks at the river’s significance for ancient tribes and in the present. And there is a pull-out here, making it a double double-paged spread, which kids will love, and of course, accentuates the length of this important African river. There are some pretty sad facts about how much waste and garbage ends up in the Nile.

The information snippets are accessible to younger readers and will inspire more research, while the illustrations are a joy for everyone. The versatility of topics touched on make this a great classroom resource for many subjects. It is a large and beautifully created book, one that I would want as a classroom text because I believe so many children will enjoy browsing through it. For Earth Day, it is a terrific resource as a reminder to us all of the importance of fresh water and rivers to all of humanity’s history. This is the sort of book I would have spent hours with in elementary school.


This is a book for specific research but also to browse. It can be used in topics related to geography, history and ecology. Video of history of Earth day

Have fun with this EARTH DAY Quiz created by

Each week a group of bloggers reviews picture books we feel would make great educational reads. To help teachers, caregivers and parents, we have included resources and/or activities with each of our reviews. A complete list of the thousands of books we have reviewed can be found sorted alphabetically and by topics, here on Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

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8 Responses to Great Rivers of the World – Earth Day/PPBF

  1. Jilanne F Hoffmann says:

    Wow! Prestel makes such beautiful books! It’s such an unusual, and perfect, trim size for this kind of subject matter. I’ll see if I can get my hands on a copy of this one. Thanks for the rec, Joanna!

  2. Clearly, I could get lost in this book! I love maps and geography and the intertwining of everything in our world.

  3. What a treasure for school libraries. I especially like the beautiful layout of the book — so well-crafted and presented. I grew up along a river that bore a Native American name and I loved to imagine how they lived. We used to find arrowheads in the fields and along the river. I always wish the river could speak and tell me who lived there before I did. So much interesting history in rivers that are vital to our lives. Thanks for sharing!

    • Joanna says:

      I love your early memories and the idea of rivers talking to us. I love hearting the Native American names of rivers too. I noticed that a lot in Maine.

  4. I’ll echo Beth & Julie. What a wonderful book to get lost in. Thanks for featuring it!

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